Advertisment

film -> Noah Review and Analysis

Noah Review and Analysis

Survivor’s guilt of biblical proportion

by

I don’t have good news for those itching to catch art house filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) try to direct his way through an inflated, big budget disaster movie with biblical characters.  I wish I could have participated in the drawing room—pitching different directions for the film because after seeing Noah, there’s no other explanation for the lack of quality except that the film was written into a tricky corner. There are big names in the cast (including Sir Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah), but they don’t save the issues the picture has regarding plot and pacing. The cast, led by Russell Crowe as the titular hero, manages to accomplish their job as actors by captivating the audience with some intense performances among the ranks.

I’ll lead with the positives.  The CGI and special effects in the film are astounding.  The flood is encompassing and inundating, the variations of luminosity in beings is unprecedented, and the creation itself looks real for some of the more far-fetched scenes like the boarding of birds, reptiles, quadrupeds, etc. Several of the quadrupeds resemble Ozymandias’ pet Bubastis (from Watchmen) with different blue and purple mammals boarding the ark. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s camera work transcends the flood—showing an infinite ocean and merciless storm.  The creation of Emma Watson’s character, Ila, was also welcome and added a touch of femininity in a film greatly lacking some due to the of wasted talent of female lead Jennifer Connelly (the third under-utilized Oscar winner in the cast after Crowe and Hopkins) until the final act. Watson (the Harry Potter franchise, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) She presented a likeable character in a cast full of men who are wooden and either crazy or lonely.

It was cool to see Aronofsky use his trademark technique of sequential quick cuts a la shooting heroin in Requiem for a Dream.  With Noah, his approach involved the initial temptation in the Garden of Eden. I loved that he used this technique; it made the viewer feel like God was ever-present even when there was only the forest or the ocean on screen. Referencing all of the major events leading up to the flood felt paramount in understanding Noah’s momentous task and responsibilities. His relationship with the Creator felt familiar and natural with these constant flashbacks and visions.

It was cool to see Aronofsky use his trademark technique of sequential quick cuts a la shooting heroin in Requiem for a Dream.  With Noah, his approach involved the initial temptation in the Garden of Eden. I loved that he used this technique; it made the viewer feel like God was ever-present even when there was only the forest or the ocean on screen. Referencing all of the major events leading up to the flood felt paramount in understanding Noah’s momentous task and responsibilities. His relationship with the Creator felt familiar and natural with these constant flashbacks and visions.

Perhaps my favorite quality of the film was Aronofsky’s ability to make the film seem timeless. It didn’t have that “old timey” feel of the 50s and 60s Biblical epics. The desolation and desperation of the characters partnered with a hopeless wasteland for planet Earth present a setting that may as well take place thousands of years from now in a dystopian wasteland after the pinnacle of humanity similar to the Pacific Island tribe from Cloud Atlas. I totally dig that. It makes Noah and his family much more relatable. Relatable. Relatable…

Relatability. That’s the basic problem with Noah, but why should it be? Noah is a biblical hero! Bible heroes were the closest thing to comic book heroes for hundreds of years. Noah’s about as close to Batman as the Bible offers: a man wholly devoted to doing accomplishing his assignment with a tunnel vision and talent for learning. Just like Bruce Wayne felt survivor’s guilt at the death of his parents, so did Noah when the portion of humanity that failed to board his ark perished in flood. Aronofsky starts out strong—building up Crowe’s Noah as dark, brooding and righteous.  However, all Noah does for most of the film is brood. Crowe rarely gets to express his anger as he seemingly bides his time bottling it instead.  Noah lives in a world where the people are directly angry with the Creator (because they never once say “God” in Noah) for not providing. 

My only suggestion to punch up this struggle is to focus the conflict back on Noah:  have Noah try to get as many passengers aboard as possible instead interpret his dream for God to be an ending for humanity. Noah’s Noah is convinced that the flood is intended to obliterate humanity to cleanse the Earth.  Put Noah front and center trying to save humanity with God’s message just like any Christian you might encounter today. It’s more relatable for Christians and non-Christians alike. Christians can put themselves in the protagonist’s sandals, and non-Christians can put themselves in the footwear belonging to all of the people Noah could approach.  In the Bible, Noah tried desperately to get people to board the ark, but in Noah, the ark has a stingier membership policy than Augusta National Golf Club. There’s an entire army of people trying to take over his ark, and instead of explaining the truth, Noah summons “the Watchers”—Noah’s “mountainesque” ents taking a page out of Michael Bay’s alien robots from the Transformers franchise.

The relatability of Noah gets further strained when (after hitting a very somber note with survivor’s guilt in regards to the flood) he confuses his guilt with  his mission from God and declares his intention to murder a child in the event of its birth. This part loses the entire audience: Christians have Noah dead to rights as an abortionist, and everybody else has him pegged as a murderer because the mother begs for the life of her children. It isn’t even a controversy of choice in this particular instance. Why would Noah take the stance that Noah was out to ensure the end of humanity? It negates his participation on the ark and certainly it isn’t heroic.

Noah, however, wrote itself into an irreversible jam in regards to “the watchers.” The watchers are rock monsters—like a miniature version of those reminiscent in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The watchers are essentially fallen angels—those cast out of Heaven. Naturally, you’d think these are the villains? Nope. The villain is a moronic stowaway named King Tubal-Cain—because he is descended of Cain and unworthy of boarding the ark. (Noah, as a descendant of Seth, was worthy.) Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone- The Departed, Beowulf) is a one-note villain set on making sure everybody knows he’s in charge. In the final battle, he wields a ridiculous rocket caster reminiscent of the Battle of New Orleans…from the Civil War. The other descendants of Cain are just as time-muddled: the leaders seem like Lords from feudal Europe and the commoners seem like Viking raiders from the early middle ages.




In the film, the descendants of Cain were once duped by the fallen angels, causing them to eat beasts of the Earth because they thought it would bring them strength instead just asking the Creator for strength. So here, Noah has set up the watchers as bad, but then they want to redeem themselves so they can re-enter Heaven. The only problem here is that Aronofsky now positions the watchers as relatable apropos of nothing.  The Bible mentions (briefly in both testaments) that the sons of God (angels) lusted after the daughters of men (women) and had hybrid offspring that, according to the text, were literal giants.  No part of the Noah story/legend/telling involves a rock creature with several limbs and a luminous aura.

The biggest problem here from a pure filmmaking stand point is that a villain with a deep, rich back story was wasted. Aronofsky takes several liberties on the canon with his interpretation of the Noah story and he was correct in taking liberty with fallen angels—I simply argue that he went the wrong way with them. Instead of turning them into some sort of bizarre, rock monstrosities seeking redemption, turn them into the villains the Bible makes them: lustful, spiteful, vengeful.  Instead, these creatures agree to build Noah’s ark free of charge because they have a hunch it will get them in to Heaven, and because it’s convenient for the plot/pacing, it works. In fact, one of the watchers destroys itself after seeing that his hunch works. It doesn’t even honor its commitment to help Noah to the end—it just bails on him.  By the time the watchers’ arc (no pun intended) is complete, it feels like they got into Heaven for not really learning their lesson anyway.  As a viewer, it feels like cheating.

I’d pitch that the fallen angels should have presented as the primary villain—mighty, terrifying beings with a lust for women that leads to rape, murder and destruction.  Truly evil villains—along the line of evil characters throughout history: Hitler, Stalin, etc. The Bible already does the work. These villains’ plight would be so much easier to follow and understand.  Avoiding the Flood and Hell is a rather relatable feeling, so why muddy alliances and add another villain and another subplot? Put the classic theme of good and evil forefront in a Noah movie: the fallen angels struggling tooth and nail to avoid God’s wrath instead of a bloated disaster epic where the construction of the ark builds right up to the last, possible moment.

 

 

No audience member should ever expect a direct representation of book-to-movie, but Noah strays a bit too much off the mark. It only happens rarely (The Perks of Being a Wallflower). However, the finished product of acclaimed filmmaker Darren Aronofsky’s newest flick begs for a clear, direct plot with relatable characters and a score that doesn’t waste Clint Mansell’s gifts. I would have ended the film when the screen cuts to black and Noah says, “In the beginning…” aboard the ark, but that’s just me preferring films with little plot to end as concisely as possible and on an edgy note.

Keywords: Noah movie, Noah bible, biblical Noah story
small logo